Walk in a Swamp

Walking through marsh, bog, and swamp areas can be challenging, and it's important to be able to read the terrain and understand the techniques for effective movement. While you might have to cross a swamp on foot in an emergency, there are many reasons for wanting to do so for leisure reasons, including when hiking, hunting, looking for rare species, doing portage, or camping. In this article, you'll learn about the types of swamps, the techniques and even how to self-rescue if needed.


  1. Know your swamp, Care for a Striped Marsh Frog, or bog. Not all swamps, marshes, or bogs are the same and some of them are more dangerous than others to be attempting to travel through. Things to bear in mind include depth, animals that lurk in the swamp, plant life (Make a Rooting Tonic can entangle you or trip you), and other such potential problems. Some typical swamps and marshes include:[1]
    • Mangrove swamp or marsh: These will be found in tropical coastal areas. It is a swamp that usually has soft mud, found around river mouths, deltas, inlets, and along shallow bays of small islands. The mangroves grow very closely together and there is usually still water surrounding them. Their roots are extremely slippery, steep, and arching, and many of the mangroves create impenetrable masses of roots. Generally you will find these difficult places to walk in and the risk of slipping is high if walking on the root formations. If the water is also deep, you cannot simply wade through this type of swamp either. Use a small vessel if you need to travel through this type of swamp, noting that you may still have trouble getting around.
    • Plan Adventurous Belize Jungle Tours swamp or marsh: these will often have very lush growth of tough and thick reeds that grow up to {{safesubst:#invoke:convert|convert}} in height where there is plenty of water. Walking in a jungle marsh involves restricted observation at ground level to a few feet and the footing will be much less secure than any other jungle surface.
    • Freshwater marsh: These marshes are usually {{safesubst:#invoke:convert|convert}} in depth. In the United States, the largest freshwater marshes are those in the Florida Everglades.
    • Salt swamps: These occur in the arid areas and can turn into lakes during a rainy season. Due to their saltiness, few plants grow in them. They can be crossed easily when dry and crusty but when they're wet, they can have deep and sticky mud that is impassable.
    • Saltwater marsh: This forms as a result of tidal activity and is highly saline. These are located by the sea, in river deltas and intertidal zones. They are often covered with grass-like plants rather than bushes or trees. The main issue with crossing this kind of marsh is getting through the grass-like covering. Some marshes can be walked on top if they are thick enough. It is like walking on a trampoline because water is below the vegetative cover. Others you have to pull apart or crawl on your belly. Salt/Brackish water marshes in the South USA are favorites places of Alligators and Water Moccasin snakes, best to avoid and make a lot of noise. If you get bit by a snake here, it will be next to impossible in some cases to rescue you in time due to slow travel. Be careful when crossing open water, you might get caught by an incoming tide and being prepared to swim back if that happens, taking care to avoid riptides, strong currents, or undertows.
    • Sphagnum moss bogs: Sphagnum moss is the source of peat bogs. While these bogs appear shallow from the surface, the decay underneath creates layers of muck that a walker does not want to fall into. When Make a Moss Hanging Basket covers and entire pond, it can become what is known as a "quaking bog". This bog trembles or quakes under the walker's feet and if you get stuck in a quaking bog, and sink into the muck below, "escape is nearly impossible".[2] If the water below the bog is very deep, and there is nothing but sphagnum moss growing on top, there is nothing to grasp onto to pull oneself out. Peat bogs often have the remains of animals and even people who have fallen into them, kept immaculately for centuries owing to the bog's preserving acids. Know how to spot one and keep away!
  2. Be aware that you can drown in a swamp, marsh, or bog as easily as in any other body of water, even if it's shallow. This is because of the soft nature of the bio-silt beneath these water formations, which can add many more feet to the depth if you sink into it.[3] In addition, bogs can seem secure but hide very deep water underneath the peat layer.
  3. Know the beasts that might lurk in the swamp, marsh, or bog. If you're in snake country, be very careful for it's likely that the snakes use the swamps or marshes to travel. Swamps, marshes, and bogs also attract insects; have plenty of insect repellent and try to maintain your hygiene to avoid accumulating body odor which will attract insects. Best to tie a strap around the bottom of your pant legs to keep leeches out.
    • And do your homework to know whether there are beasts such as crocodiles or Avoid an Alligator Attack in that water! Some bodies of water are just too unsafe to walk in because of the local wildlife.
  4. Dress for the swamp walk. There are several possibilities for footwear in a swamp, ranging from bare feet to boots and waders; the choice will depend on the type of swamp and the safety needs. You should also wear a hat to protect your head from the sun, and if it's heavily infested with insects, add a head net for protection.
    • Wear loose, long-sleeved shirts that have a button down collar and cuffs.[4]
    • Paul Tawrell, author of the massive tome "Camping & Wilderness Survival" recommends wearing the Vietnam Jungle Boot for swamp walking.[4] He says that this type of boot is lightweight, supportive and has meshed breather holes to let the water that gets into the boot escape.
    • You might consider walking barefoot but only if you know the depth of the swamp, the safety of the swamp in terms of animals, insects, and snarls, etc. Any roots, reeds, or litter (including old fencing) in a swamp, marsh, or bog presents a danger to a barefoot walker, as do leeches, snakes, worms (in infested areas of the world), and even fish. It is much easier to sprain an ankle or break a toe by getting caught in root formations when you're bare foot.
    • Follow the lead of duck hunters. Wear hip boots or chest waders walking in the swamp. You don't have to, but it's preferable.
    • If the water is reasonably warm, you can walk wearing jeans and an old pair of sneakers but not anything that you plan on wearing on your next date!
  5. Do your research. Unless you're confronted by having to cross a swamp or marsh in an emergency situation, take your time to learn about the swamp you intend walking in. Find out from locals what they know about it, and ask anyone else you know who has walked in it what advice they have to offer. If it's regularly used, such as for hunting, then there will be a lot of people who have experience with the swamp.
    • Look online for information about the swamp, marsh or bog. If it's a series of swamps, see whether hiking books or travel guides have covered methods for crossing them.
    • If you're in a Get Married in a National Park or other sort of reserve run by government, corporate, or non-profit entities, avail yourself of their information, maps, advice, and warnings. They will know the terrain better than you and can quickly bring you up to speed.
    • Ask a local hiking club for information about crossing the swamp. They may have traversed it on their own walks or they may have warnings about it.
    • Get a detailed map of the area and know how the terrain changes. It's also a good idea to have a compass with you.
    • Get yourself a guide. What better way to discover a new swamp or bog than with a guide who knows where to go?
  6. Make use of boardwalks. If there are boardwalks, stay on them when walking through swamp areas. They are there for several very good reasons – to protect you and your walking gear, to protect the fragile nature of the plants growing in the marsh, bog, or swamp, and to direct pedestrian traffic in a way that causes minimal impact overall.
  7. Go with a buddy. All water activities are safer when you do them with a Choose a Traveling Companion; going alone for any outdoor activity is asking for trouble if something goes wrong. Take along a companion or more and share your knowledge.
  8. Know how to depth check. If you don't know the depth of the water, use a measure such as a Make a Walking Stick Using a Sapling, branch, or some other item that can register at least the water depth. Clearly if the measure signals a depth that's too much for a human to wade through, avoid crossing it on foot.
  9. Remember to always read the terrain where you're going. If there is a Calculate the Weight of a Body of Water next to the swamp, you can be fairly sure that firm ground can be found on the crest of that bank although it, too, may appear muddy. The ground on the bank opposite from the lake, bay or stream has a tendency to retain water and often is quite soft.
    • Look for vegetation and pods of roots to step on as you walk. They will not hold you up forever but will decrease how much you sink until the next step.
    • Avoid Catch a Walleye when the Mayflies Are Hatching unless you have tested them. Often they can be sand based but in many tidal areas they are almost like quicksand.
    • Look at areas where there are cattails and phragmites (reeds) as they can usually support a person moving through the area.
    • Be aware that when crossing ditches and streams in the swamp where water is flowing you will find the center of the stream to be firm. Most of the time it will have a sandy or Make a Gravel Path bottom; the challenge is to determine how deep the soft edges of the stream are with silt before you get to the firm middle. The opposite side of the firm middle will usually mirror the soft side you have just passed through. If you make it to the middle okay, you are likely to make it across.
  10. Use the right walking technique. The secret to walking in the swamp, aside from reading the terrain, is the technique:
    • Take your second step before the first one is complete, almost as if you're gliding instead of walking. If you try to walk in a swamp like walking on land, you'll try to take a step, wait to hit firm bottom and then step again, wait for a firm bottom, then pull up the first step only to find that suction has taken affect and they can't get the foot out; in actual fact, you've just put too much weight onto one foot in walking this way and when you try to pull out the second step, you'll find the same problem of being stuck. Eventually, you will get your feet out and move on but it's exhausting walking like this.
    • So, remember to take the second step before the first step hits bottom. As the second step is going down, pull up on the first one. Repeat the process. It takes a little skill and leg fitness, but if you don't have that, what the heck are you doing walking around in the swamp anyway?!
  11. Use natural markers. Once you have negotiated a swamp, use natural markers like trees to remember where the passable areas are. After a while you'll get the feel for it and cruise through the swamp in a manner similar to walking on dry land.
  12. Know what to do if you do start sinking in. Treat sinking into a swamp, bog, or marsh in the same manner as for sinking into quicksand – indeed, contrary to common belief quicksand is rare in desert terrain but is found mostly in marshes and near rivers and lakes.[5] Here is what to do if you get caught in quicksand, sinking bio-silt, or mire:[6]
    • Do not panic, do not struggle, and do not flail about. These are all guaranteed to cause you to sink in deeper, and quickly.
    • Avoid trying to lift one foot as this will place all of your weight on the other foot, and you'll sink deeper.
    • Drop to your hands and knees. Sure, you're going to wet and very messy but that's better than the alternative of getting hopelessly stuck in or submerged by mud or quicksand. The surface area created by your hands, knees, and legs will help to distribute the weight more evenly across the swamp's surface, an area far wider than just your feet. If the mire beneath you feels too soft and you're still sinking after dropping to a Crawl position, lie down completely and be prepared to move only one part of your body at a time. The human body is less dense than quicksand, so aiming to "float" on it can reduce it to a nuisance rather than a danger.[5]
    • Visualize yourself as a snake, and make snake-like movements to attempt to "float" out of the sinking area of the swamp. Head back in the direction you came from.
  13. Know how to remove leeches and check for any other waterborne beasts. When you emerge from a swamp, bog, or marsh, you might have some guests hitching a lift. Do a quick body check to remove leeches. If you're walking in an area known for disease vectors, know what to do to remove them or to prevent them from latching on (ask local doctors before walking, or read up the information).


  • Consider avoiding walking through a swamp if there are reasonable alternatives. For the most part, unless you're familiar with the swamp and swamp-walking techniques, it is probably best to find your way around the swamp. Naturally, this won't always be possible but do look for this possibility before attempting to walk through the swamp.
  • Some places offer guided swamp walks so that you can see rare plants and animal species. If you are a novice, this might be a very good way to learn about the nature of the swamp and any special techniques needed.
  • Anything carried with you through a swamp should be wrapped in waterproof bags or covers. This is especially important if you're camping in swampland, as you don't want your tent, sleeping bags, and other gear to be sodden through accidentally dropping them.


  • Don't do this alone, ever. Always have at least one companion with you. Preferably, one of you should be savvy about outdoor recreation knowledge and safety.
  • Swamp walking can be very dangerous, as the hazards noted above have alerted you to. You must know what you're doing and have good outdoor experience before attempting to walk in swamps.
  • Assume that all swamp water is polluted. Avoid drinking it. If beavers are upstream, the water can be contaminated from their urine, which can transmit tularemia.[7]

Things You'll Need

  • Boots, waders, suitable clothing
  • Insect repellent, net cover, hat
  • Measuring tool (walking stick, branch, etc.)
  • Waterproofing for gear
  • Compass/GPS (optional but important if you're hiking or staying back country)
  • A companion

Related Articles

Sources and Citations

  1. Paul Tawrell, Camping & Wilderness Survival, (2006), ISBN 978-0-9740820-2-8
  2. Paul Tawrell, Camping & Wilderness Survival, p. 163, (2006), ISBN 978-0-9740820-2-8
  3. Paul Tawrell, Camping & Wilderness Survival, p. 164, (2006), ISBN 978-0-9740820-2-8
  4. 4.0 4.1 Paul Tawrell, Camping & Wilderness Survival, p. 166, (2006), ISBN 978-0-9740820-2-8
  5. 5.0 5.1 David Borgenicht and Trey Popp, The Worst-Case Scenario Almanac: Great Outdoors, p. 57, (2007), ISBN 0-8118-5827-8
  6. Paul Tawrell, Camping & Wilderness Survival, p. 169, (2006), ISBN 978-0-9740820-2-8
  7. Paul Tawrell, Camping & Wilderness Survival, p. 168, (2006), ISBN 978-0-9740820-2-8

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